It’s 100 years since oil was discovered just outside Turner Valley.
And if you’d like to toast that pivotal moment in Alberta history, Turner Valley can help with that, too — if you’re willing to wait a while.
The town is slated to become home to the Eau Claire Distillery, which aims to produce the first Alberta-made craft vodka, whiskey and gin in the same spot. Eau Claire is sourcing from local farmers, employing what it calls the “farm to glass concept.”
“Our goal is to always source our grains from Alberta farmers,” said David Farran, one of the founders of the distillery. “We’re very unique in sourcing our grains direct from the farm rather than through grain brokers.”
Farran farms northwest of Turner Valley, and has been a hobby draft horse enthusiast for years.
He and his draft horse enthusiast friends have been producing, plowing, planting, harvesting and threshing their own grain for years.
“We were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we could go all the way through and complete the process and actually distill it?’” said Farran. “That was one of the impetuses behind starting the distillery.”
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On the last weekend in May, Farran and 13 other draft horse teams from across Alberta plowed and seeded 10 acres of grains at the historic Bar U ranch. In the fall, they’ll be harvesting the grains for distilling. The planters will have to hold their thirst for a long time, as the whiskey won’t be ready for another three years.
“The horse farming is only for special edition rye,” said Farran. “We will never be able to produce enough with horses to satiate the thirst of Albertans, we hope. But it’s fun to do it from grain to glass.”
The Eau Claire Distillery is housed in the town’s historic movie theatre, which began life as the Turner Valley Theatre and Dance hall in 1929.
“It has lots of history,” said Farran. “There’s actually an interesting convergence of history because the oil boom started in May 1914, and prohibition came in in 1916 and ended in 1924. The boom ended in 1929. So all the craziness of Canada’s biggest industrial project at the time was right in the heart of prohibition.”
Turner Valley was known as a “wild town,” and featured an entire street of hidden bars, known as “Whiskey Row.”
The movie theatre was located next to the brothel.
“It’s a storied history in terms of prohibition and whiskey making. There were a lot of hillbilly stills that were up in the mountains during that time as well,” said Farran.